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March madness has begun
By the time you read this, the upsets will have already blown up most brackets
March 21, 2013
The surest sign that spring began on Wednesday isn’t the crocus that are starting to bloom in neighborhood yards, nor the snow that is predicted for tonight.
Rather, you can be sure that spring is here because everyone’s brackets for the NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament are now filled out.
Even the procrastinators who waited until the last minute were forced to finish their brackets early Thursday morning. The annual spring ritual costs businesses millions of dollars in productivity as basketball fans use their desktop computers to sneak peeks at first-round games instead of working.
By the time that you read this, it is nearly guaranteed that your bracket has already blown up. Either that upset that you wanted to pick — but couldn’t pull the trigger on won — or the upset you did pick played tough, but ended up losing on a last second shot.
Here are some facts about the brackets that hopefully will make you feel just a little bit better when you discover that your bracket is not a winner.
The odds of picking a perfect bracket are less than one in a quadrillion. That’s right, less than one in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. By contrast, the chances of winning this week’s $300 million Powerball lottery is approximately one in 175 million. The odds of being attacked by a shark are one in 11.5 million, and the odds of dying from a lightning strike are one in three million.
Possibly, even more discouraging is that the probability is one in five that someone who has your pool, and about one in 10 that the winner will never have filled out a bracket before.
Last year, my youngest daughter finished second in her pool by selecting teams based on the color of their uniforms. In the event that both teams had the same color, she used proximity to where she lives as the tiebreaker.
On Wednesday, someone challenged my wife to pick a bracket to see if she could beat me. Fortunately, she didn’t take them up on it, because she probably would have used some system such as which mascot could defeat the other mascot in a fight — and beaten me.
No matter how you pick your bracket — your chance of being successful is roughly the same. So why do people spend so much time and energy on an exercise of futility?
Well, it’s cheap entertainment and it certainly adds interest to games that would otherwise feature two teams that you could care less about. For example, who on the west coast actually cares what happens when Creighton, a seven seed, faces Cincinnati, a 10 seed, today at 9:45 a.m.?
The good news is that you don’t have to be perfect, probably not even close to perfect, to have a chance to win your pool.
With just a little bit of luck in the early rounds and the judicious selection of a handful of upsets, you have as good a chance to win as the next guy, or gal.
So who is the odds-on favorite to win this year’s tournament?
According to the tournament selection committee, the No. 1 seed is Louisville.
Meanwhile, Georgia Tech’s Logistic Regression/Markov Chain (LRMC) computer system, which has correctly picked three of the last five champions, has Florida defeating Gonzaga in the championship.
So just for fun, here are my picks for this year’s championship. I have Gonzaga knocking off Florida in the finals.
There are also several underdog teams to look out for. St. Mary’s had to play their way into the tournament, but could knock off Memphis and possibly even Michigan State.
Oregon deserved a much higher seed than a 12 and could upset Oklahoma State. Then there are New Mexico, Wisconsin, San Diego State, St. Louis, and Iowa State, which are all lightly regarded and all tough outs.
No matter who you picked, one thing’s for sure: Most of the nation will be watching when they should be working and most of us won’t win our pools.